How to Predict Success in the Workplace

Everyone has a stake in figuring out what drives success in the workplace. Recruiters, HR professionals, and managers want to find and hire the candidates that are most likely to fit open positions in their organizations. Candidates want to find and apply to the positions in organizations in which they are likely to fit. The direct and indirect costs of making a bad hiring decision are high for everyone involved.

While there is some consensus among professionals about what seems to best determine workplace success, it is also rather interesting to see the diversity of viewpoints and strategies involved. What works well for some might not work as well for others—it seems unlikely that there is a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

This might suggest that the hiring process necessarily requires a personalized, hands-on, high-touch approach at every stage in order to be successful. But does it really? What I would like to argue here is that the answer to this question depends on the type of trend that we are trying to predict. More specifically, I suggest that there are 2 types of trend: Repeating and Non-repeating.

Non-Repeating Trends

Have you ever wondered why the weather forecast almost never goes past 10 days from now? The reason is that we cannot accurately predict the weather on a given day more than about 1 week in advance. We still know the basic trends beyond a week, but not accurately enough to really tell you if you should take an umbrella when you go outside on a specific day. Meteorologists and climate scientists have developed incredibly accurate predictive models that work almost perfectly in the short-term, but those models break down over time. The reason why is that the trends are non-repeating—we don’t yet know the next set of variables that would be needed to continue making accurate predictions.

Non-repeating trends exist when the different things that determine a given outcome also affect one another. For example, consider the relationship between job performance and job satisfaction. It makes sense that they go together. Good performance on the job can be satisfying, and employees that feel satisfied in what they do might perform better. What might surprise you is that there is, on average, only about a 10% overlap between the two. There are just too many other variables affecting performance and satisfaction for there to be a particularly strong relationship (and there are at least 7 prominent theories about why).

Realizing the complexity of this relationship should help those who are seeking employees that perform well and are satisfied in their work. It may be better to find two separate criteria that best determine each of these things, rather than looking for a single solution that might determine both.

Repeating Trends

On the other hand, we should keep in mind that weather forecasts—within 10 days or so—are quite accurate. The repeating trends are very useful for this purpose, and their basic predictions are still the best starting point if we want to predict beyond that.

What does this mean for predicting success in the workplace? Begin with the repeating trends. Up front, use the most objective tools available to narrow down the search. This gives you the best chance of making the right decision further along in the process. Once you have narrowed down, the things that are non-repeating and require a more hands-on, high-touch approach become more prominent and important. No matter how effective assessment and screening techniques become, the human element is ultimately still important and necessary.

If you want to read more about research on assessment strategies, check out this post, and this page on our website.

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